Marijuana: Mason Tvert says limiting pot sales to Colorado residents would be unconstitutional

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Should marijuana pot shops in the state be limited to Colorado residents? This was one controversial debate to emerge this month as the governor's task force began its work dedicated to implementing Amendment 64. But Mason Tvert, one of the law's proponents, says there shouldn't be a debate at all, arguing it would be unconstitutional to prohibit out-of-state adults from buying pot. He believes it would also be bad public policy.

"It's entirely unconstitutional and it'll just subject the state to costly litigation," says Tvert, a Marijuana Policy Project and critic of Project SAM, an organization that opposes legalization. "The constitution now includes language saying that these stores have the ability, the right, to sell to consumers 21 and older. 'Consumer' is also now defined within that as someone who is simply 21 and older."

In November, voters passed the measure that made small amounts of recreational pot legal for adults -- and Governor John Hickenlooper signed it into law in December. The governor also set up a diverse task force charged with making recommendations to the legislature about the implementation of the law, focused largely on the establishment and regulation of retail shops.

The commercial component of Colorado's new law requires new legislation. For that reason, it will be at least a year before any recreational businesses can open up -- if the federal government doesn't object.

But in early talks at the task force, the idea of some sort of residency requirement has cropped up, though the group hasn't crafted any final or even preliminary recommendations.

Tvert says it's quite obvious that constitutionally, a push for this sort of requirement is a battle not worth fighting.

"They can't now say, 'Oh, it's only Coloradans,'" he says. "They can try, but it's really not what we should be focused on. We should be focused on developing a tightly regulated system that will work and accommodate the demand for marijuana."

Part of the discussion about Amendment 64, before and after it passed, is how the legalization of marijuana might help tourism (though some are worried legalization will discourage investments in the state).

"On one hand, we've got our opponents who say if we pass this initiative, it's going to bring all these out-of-town people here who want to use marijuana," Tvert says. "On the other hand, they're saying let's ensure that those people can only get marijuana in an underground market. The goal here was to eliminate the underground market, so it's just foolish."

Continue for more of our interview with Mason Tvert. Tvert feels confident there won't even be much of a discussion around a residency requirement.

"It's been floated, but I think that anyone who's brought up the idea will have to...appreciate the fact that it is grossly unconstitutional," he says, adding of the task force members, "If they don't recognize that it's unconstitutional, then we should be asking ourselves why they are in that position."

There's been a backlash regarding two task force members who have spoken out against legalization outside the task force.

A residency requirement is not the only proposal that Tvert says would directly violate the law. As we reported last week, the task force has also raised the question of whether the state should own and operate pot shops, instead of private entrepreneurs. At least one task force member is a fan of the idea -- but not Tvert.

"We created a law that ensures the system will exist based on certain guidelines," he says. "That there will be these businesses that are regulated by the government at the local and state level that will sell and that the legislature needs to establish specific regulations regarding time and place of sales, labeling, security and so on."

He continues, "We did not leave it open for them to just change it and say, 'We're gonna scratch that and have the state run it.'"

If that option were pursued, it would also mean a legal fight, he warns.

"I hope that that doesn't take up time as we try to create a working system," he says, "and I hope it doesn't take up our money by having to go to court over it."

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Boulder official calls for dual licenses on pot shops"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.

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